Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review - Paradise Blue

I should maybe auto-post about all of my favorites, like a Mad Libs game, with just blanks to fill in - sometimes it seems as if I'm in a rut, yes?  But I can't help it that my favorite spaces always seem to host my favorite writers!  And so it was that I went to see Dominique Morisseau's new play Paradise Blue at the Signature Theatre...

If you would like to remind yourselves about my feelings about some of Dominique's other plays, here are my thoughts on Skeleton Crew (HERE) and Pipeline (HERE).  I just love the work of hers that I've seen - I find her bold and original and she writes about people I don't know, but by the end of the plays, I know them intimately.  I also love that she writes about Detroit and working class people, the kind of characters we see far too infrequently on stages.

Paradise Blue takes place in Detroit, after WW2, in a neighborhood called Black Bottom.  I didn't know anything about that neighborhood, even though I lived in Detroit during grad school.  I've done a little googling about it and my, what a sad story.  Anyway, Black Bottom had a lot of black-owned businesses in it, mainly jazz clubs.  This play takes place in Paradise, one of the jazz clubs.  The club is also a boarding house, home to most of our characters: two jazz musicians who play in the club, the club owner's girlfriend and then later a mysterious femme fatale from Louisiana.  The club's owner, a brilliant and troubled trumpeter named Blue, is the other character is the play.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
This story could be played out in many cliches, with the troubled musician who is a tortured genius, yet a softie on the inside, who everyone loves because of his genius and innate goodness, and then the women who love him constantly make apologies for him.  But Paradise Blue doesn't do that.  At least, it doesn't do ONLY that.  The center of the story is someone you wouldn't expect and the story unfolds in completely surprising ways.  I loved the use of language and music in the storytelling and got so involved with these characters.  I mean, I don't want to say too much, because I think the unexpectedness is so appealing, but I will say that by the time we got to the final scene, I was just in tears because of all the pain and fear that was running through the characters.

I loved how Pumpkin (the club owner's girlfriend) was always reciting poetry - I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know the Harlem Renaissance poet Georgia Douglas Johnson before, but I'm very interested in her work now.  I loved the relationship that built up between Pumpkin and Silver (the femme fatale who sets a lot of the play's action in motion), and the relationship between Silver and Corn, one of the other jazz musicians in the club.  Actually, I loved all of the relationships between the characters.  They were all very real and interesting.  I'll admit I found Blue a difficult character, or maybe I found the actor playing Blue to be difficult.  I'm not quite sure.  But even with all the extenuating circumstances that are revealed throughout the play, I couldn't quite feel what I think I was supposed to feel for Blue.  That's on me, I guess.  His trumpet playing was expert, however, and I did feel his frustration at finding the 'perfect moment' in his music.

photo credit: Joan Marcus
The physical production is fantastic and I thought the direction was top-notch, too.  As usual, Dominique Morisseau, though her play, has taught me something new and introduced me to people/characters I'm glad to have met.  And, as usual, I can't wait to see what she brings us next.  In case you couldn't tell, I highly recommend you go see Paradise Blue.  Dominique is a true singular talent.  The run has been extended several times, so you should take advantage of that.  I only hope you're not sitting in front of the gal I sat in front of.  She gave a monologue about her dog that lasted the entire half hour I was in my seat before the show started, then continued throughout the entire intermission.  I don't know how her seat neighbor managed to keep quiet during her monologue.  In fact, I almost turned around and asked her if she was going through an audition piece, and not a real stream-of-consciousness outpouring of information about her dog, because my goodness.  It was a lot.  Certainly more than I ever needed to know about her black lab/some-kind-of-terrier mix... :)

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